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Holding Bars Accountable: Understanding Liquor Liability and Dram Shop Laws

Imagine stepping out of your favorite local bar, the night still young and full of possibilities. But then, tragedy strikes. A drunk driver, moments after being served one too many drinks at that very bar, causes a catastrophic accident that injures you or takes the life of a loved one. 

If you’re wondering if holding bars accountable when a drunk driving crash like this occurs is an option, it may be. Here in Alabama, we have a dram shop law, a liquor liability statute in place that allows plaintiffs to hold venues like bars liable if they continue to serve drinks to customers who are clearly over the limit and then go on to inflict damage. 

Understanding Alabama’s Dram Shop Law

While the focus of this article is on bars, the following businesses are also covered by Alabama dram shop laws: 

  • Nightclubs
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Convenience stores

It’s important to note that our state’s liquor liability law is less about punishing businesses that serve or sell alcohol and is more focused on ensuring they’re held accountable when they do so irresponsibly. In making businesses responsible for not serving alcohol to those clearly over the limit or underage, the expectation is that these regulations will markedly decrease occurrences of misuse. The fact that an establishment can be found civilly liable in court if it serves alcohol to someone who subsequently injures another because they were intoxicated helps with this. 

Since our state initially instituted its original Dram Shop Act in 1909, there have been various updates to it, the latest of which occurred just last year. Recent legal reforms associated with this law focused on making it easier for bars and restaurants to secure affordable liability insurance to protect their financial interest if they were sued. Before the latest dram shop law reform went into effect in March, businesses in our state could only use three insurers, and state minimum coverage cost bars as much as $35,000 per year, which was cost-prohibitive for most. Now, more alcohol-serving establishments can afford liability coverage.

It’s also worth noting that while the focus of many discussions about dram shop laws center on potential alcohol-related auto accidents intoxicated bar patrons may cause, these liability statutes may also apply to other types of injury incidents, such as: 

  • Slips and falls
  • Physical assaults, including sexual assaults

Filing a Dram Shop Act Lawsuit in Alabama

Serving drinks comes with risks—ones that lead many businesses to acquire liability insurance to protect their financial interests in case they’re named as a defendant in a liquor liability lawsuit. While it’s not good news if you or someone close to you were hurt by an underaged minor or adult who was served too much alcohol, there is a silver lining: you can either file a claim with the liability carrier if they have insurance or a lawsuit directly against the bar that contributed to you suffering harm.

To build a strong liability case, evidence that the establishment knowingly served alcohol to an already visibly intoxicated individual or someone below the lawful drinking age is essential. This proof solidifies their breach of duty, making them civilly liable for any subsequent harm caused.

Types of Compensation Available

Victims injured by drunk drivers may feel overwhelmed by financial strains alongside physical recovery. Understanding what compensation might be available can offer some solace during these tough times.

The types of recoverable losses are broad and encompass both economic and non-economic damages. Financial burdens like medical bills, lost wages due to your inability to work, and property damage are all considered economic damages. Emotional distress and loss of enjoyment in life are examples of non-economic losses you may be entitled to recover compensation for if an irresponsible establishment served alcoholic beverages beyond legal limits.

How an Attorney Can Help if an Alcohol-Related Auto Accident or Other Incident Hurt You

Alabama Code § 6-2-38 spells out how injury victims have a specific window of time to file an insurance claim or lawsuit, which is two years from the date of the accident. Other sections of the state code clarify who is eligible to file suit in cases like these. This includes the victim or their surviving spouse, children, parents, or other close relative. Then, there are elements of negligence that victims must prove to have a successful claim or lawsuit. 

As you can imagine, laws like our Alabama dram shop one, are multi-faceted. There are related codes, like our wrongful death act, that may additionally apply to cases like these, depending on how they occurred. This is where it can be helpful to have an attorney like ours at Tobias Comer Law to help you navigate the legal system so you have the best chances of recovering compensation if you do ultimately file a claim. Contact our Mobile, AL law firm to speak with one of our personal injury lawyers about your case. 

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